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Mexicans Brace for Clash in Congress During Presidential Inauguration

In Mexico, a standoff between rival parties continues in the lower house of the congress, which is to be the site of the presidential inauguration on Friday. Some Latin American leaders have canceled trips to attend the event, citing concerns over security. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Mexico City, a violent incident in the congress during the inauguration ceremony could represent a huge setback for Mexican democracy and the country's image in the world.

It's the sound of Mexican politics today. In the hall where verbal debate and parliamentary procedure should prevail, there has been pushing, punching and shouting.

The standoff began Tuesday, when members of the ruling National Action Party, known as the PAN, took control of the main platform where the new president traditionally takes the oath of office.

They did this after repeated threats from members of the Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, and other leftist parties, to block President-elect Felipe Calderon from taking office.

In the July election, Calderon, of the PAN, won by less than half a percentage point over Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, of the PRD, who immediately condemned the election as fraudulent, and began a series of public demonstrations attended by tens-of-thousands of supporters. He has since declared himself the legitimate president, and chosen a shadow Cabinet.

Outgoing President Vicente Fox has made no secret of his disdain for Lopez Obrador, and, in one of his last public statements before leaving office Friday, he condemned the PRD actions as an embarrassment for Mexico.

He said the situation in the House of Deputies was shameful and foolish, given that more than 85 percent of Mexicans in recent polls back Felipe Calderon as the legal president-elect, and reject Lopez Obrador as what Fox called "the legitimate president."

But the drop in popularity shown in the polls is of little concern to Lopez Obrador. A top U.S. academic expert on Mexico, George Grayson, of the College of William and Mary, says the losing candidate considers himself a messiah with a historic mission.

"Lopez Obrador believes that the system is rotten to the core, and he will move continually around the country in what, for him, is a moral crusade," he said. "So, I think, it is incumbent on the next chief executive to demonstrate to the poor of the country, who represent Lopez Obrador's major constituency, that the new administration is sensitive to their needs, and there need to be specific projects that are targeted to uplift the downtrodden."

But, in a VOA interview, Mexico City-based political analyst Ana Maria Salazar, worries that Calderon may not be able to accomplish anything, given the divisions in congress evidenced by this week's violent clashes.

"Friday is going to be a very important day, because it is going to give us a sense of the ability, or the inability of the president and the different parties to be able to resolve conflict," she said. "It is going to give us a sense of whether there is going to be any opportunity for negotiations among the political parties in Mexico."

Salazar says a lot depends on the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI, which controlled Mexico for more than 70 years before being unseated by President Fox six years ago. The PRI, which has fallen into third place as an electoral force, can now exert great power in congress by swinging its votes to either the PAN or the PRD.

But open acrimony in congress could make even normal voting procedures difficult, says Salazar, and there is much to be done.

"Next week, the Mexican congress, the lower house, the diputados [deputies], have to start negotiating next year's budget," she said. "It is very hard to imagine how they are going to do it, considering what has happened in the last couple of days."

Ana Maria Salazar and other commentators here in Mexico believe the leftist attempts to block the inauguration of Felipe Calderon will fail. But an attempt by leftist lawmakers to physically disrupt the ceremony will produce embarrassing images beamed around the world, diminishing Mexico's hard-won position as an up-and-coming democracy. In addition, many much needed reforms are likely to languish in congress, while President Calderon struggles to establish his authority.